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It is hoped that the following short 
stories, which the writer has endeavoured 
to tell in the simplest language, will give 
some idea of the inner feelings and 
belief of a people whose individuality is, 
despite the number of years we have 
been in contact with them, little known 
to the large majority of us. Even among 
those well versed in the language and 
the practical or legal customs of the 
natives, there are few who are acquainted 
with the undercurrents of thought, and 
the many traditions and superstitions, 
which are accepted without question by 
the Zulus, and which form an essential 
part of the mental life of all among them 
who have not had their ideas modified to 
some extent by European teaching, and 

vi Preface 

which continue to have a strong hold 
upon the larger number even of those 
who have had the advantages of some 
kind of education at the hands of the 
missionaries and other teachers. The 
common estimate of the African native 
is that he is a being with no ideas above 
his cattle and his physical wants ; but 
a more intimate acquaintance with their 
life, such as the writer had from being 
amongst them for many years at her 
father's mission station in Zululand, will 
reveal that the native has an ideal life 
of his own. This, it is true, is in 
many instances of a crude and savage 
character ; yet it rises a little, if only a 
little, above what is " of the earth, 
earthly," and, though it may possibly 
provoke a smile on account of its crude- 
ness or simplicity, it will at times strike 
a chord of sympathy as a touch of nature 
— as an aspiration, however feeble, to 
penetrate beyond the veil which hides 
the unseen world from human eyes. 

Preface vii 

Those who have made the folklore of 
savage or half-civilized peoples their 
study cannot fail to be struck with the 
strange analogy between some of the 
superstitions of the Zulus and those of 
many other nations. Vague and unde- 
fined as some of their native ideas are, 
there is still a belief in the existence of 
a spirit world around them by which 
their lives are affected, and a groping 
after a knowledge of influences beyond 
human power, which direct the destinies 
of mortal man, and of mysterious forces 
which can be brought into play by 
men peculiarly gifted. In their custom 
of sacrificing to the spirits, to induce 
them to restore the health of a patient, 
and their belief in the powers of wizards, 
we find them under the thraldom of the 
same superstitions which have become 
familiar to us in so many and such diverse 
directions — from the ancient Greeks to 
the modern spiritualists — and which have 
at times played so great a part in the 

viii Preface 

history of the world. Their belief in the 
11 spirits of their fathers " watching over 
them is similar to the idea underlying 
Chinese ancestral worship, and the 
wizard's powers of killing or injuring do 
not differ in essentials from the so-called 
spirit healing of enlightened America or 
the working of the " evil eye " still believed 
in by the ignorant among the peasantry 
of Italy. If, therefore, in reading of the 
Zulu superstitions we are provoked at 
times to smile, it must be rather at the 
form than at the substance. The super- 
stitions are the same that have ever 
existed, and that, despite all our advance- 
ment, still find adherents among civilized 
communities, though among these they 
are expressed in more delicate language 
and acted upon in less savage ways. 
With the large mass of Europeans such 
superstitions, thanks to modern enlighten- 
ment, are taken at their true value ; but 
so long as there are among ourselves 
people who believe in planchettes, we 

Preface ix 

cannot quite afford to look with super- 
cilious contempt upon the African who 
believes in wizards. And there is one 
point of view in which a knowledge of 
what he believes is of material import- 
ance. To him, these superstitions are 
realities. He accepts them as facts of 
which he has to take account, and which 
will be acted upon by the society in which 
his lot is cast. To estimate his true 
character, and form any accurate idea of 
the manner in which his mind will work, 
some knowledge not only of his customs 
but also of his social habits and beliefs is 
thus essential. 

The author therefore trusts that the 
present small work may prove not only of 
some scholastic value, but may also be of 
practical use to the missionary, the 
administrator, and, indeed, to all who 
come into contact with the little under- 
stood " Native, " or who are interested in 
his progress and well-being. 

The Author of these sketches is deeply indebted to 
Miss A . Werner for the pains she took to introduce a 
few of them, through the "Journal of the African 
Society," to the notice of many of those gentlemen who, 
having held the highest positions in South Africa, or 
been in supreme power over the Zulu Nation, know how 
important it is that those who hold the destinies of this 
interesting people in their hands should understand as 
much as possible of the bias of their minds and the springs 
of their conduct. But for their generous expression of 
this opinion, it is doubtful whether this little volume 
would ever have struggled to the light. To them she 
is profoundly grateful, as she is also to those whose 
ready support has enabled her to bring her venture to 
a successful issue. She wishes also to acknowledge the 
valuable assistance received from the ex-President of 
the Folk-lore Society and the Secretaries of the Royal 
Colonial Institute and the African Society. 



A Zulu Wedding - - - - i 

How Twins were Treated - - 7 

"Sending Home," I. - - - - 11 

II. - - ••-'• - 13 

Departed Spirits 18 

Sacrificing to Spirits 20 

The Death of a Chief 24 

Inkata 27 

The Zulu Annual Feast - - - 30 

The Doctoring of an Army - - - 39 

Finding out Wizards - - - - 44 

A Fire Extinguisher 47 

Rain Doctors 48 

Rainbow, Lightning, and Eclipses - 50 

Praying for the Corn 53 

Old Wives' Tales 56 

xii Contents 


King Mpande's Snake Charmer - - 62 

How Death came into the World - 66 

The Zulu's Choicest Bit of Meat - 68 

A Friendly Way of Obtaining Food - 69 

Peacemaking over a Pinch of Snuff - 71 

Rules of a Zulu Hunt 75 

Bongoza's Smartness 77 

Zulu Labyrinths and War Game- - 81 

NOTE. — The valuable footnotes signed "Ed." are 
taken by permission from Miss Werner's Paper 
in the "Journal of the African Society." 




THERE is much ceremony connected with 
a heathen Zulu wedding. A month or more 
before the time the bridegroom-elect has to 
compose a song to be sung by him and his party. 
Then he invites all the young men in the neigh- 
bourhood to come and learn it ; he also composes 
a tune to suit it, which they all have to practise 
singing together, whilst dancing and manoeuvring 
about, beating time with their feet. All his sisters, 
with their friends, join in as well. The song is 
generally made up of a very few words, something 
like a round in three or four parts. Here is one, 
for example : — 

" Kusiqingile. Sesipiwe amabosho." (We are 
in a fix. We are now supplied with cartridges.) 

I was once present at a wedding where the 
following was sung : " Wen ' obem f ugwai, 

2 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

Kauseikuza ini ? " (You who take snuff. Will you 
never die ?) This was the bridegroom's song. He 
had managed to set it to quite a nice tune, and it 
went with a swing, the men keeping time beautifully 
with their feet, and flourishing their sticks in the 

The bride-elect, too, has to go through the same 
preparations a month beforehand. She composes 
her song, and makes a tune for it, then all her 
friends have to come and learn it. The afternoons 
are generally set apart for this, and nice moonlight 
nights, when they can keep it up till the small hours 
of the morning. The words of the song may be : 
" Yek' ubugontshi ! Ngashiy' umame." (What 
trouble ! I left mother.) Or, " Kuya ngotando. 
Ngishiy'abakwetu." (It is my choice. I left my 
people.) After the day has been fixed for the 
Umtimba and everything is ready for it, the father 
sends two cows on ahead the day before, to be put 
for the bride in the cattle kraal of her future home. 
This is a sign that she will be leaving her home in 
the afternoon with her " udwendwe " (bridesmaids 
and party) ; and a hut is then prepared at once to 
receive them when they arrive in the evening — 
the eve of her wedding day. When the udwendwe 
reaches the kraal, a great noise of singing and 
clapping of hands is heard, this being the signal of 
their arrival. Most girls carry small stones in 
their hands so as to make a louder noise. Clapping 
at the gate, they are met by someone who invites 
them to enter, and leads the way to the hut pre- 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 3 

pared for them. In this hut they sit up all night, 
singing and talking, until about dawn, when they 
make a move towards a bush, chosen in the neigh- 
bourhood, where they settle down to breakfast. In 
this place they spend the greater part of the 
forenoon, cooking and feasting, Meat and beer is 
sent to them from the bride's future home. At 
about 8 in the morning the first messenger is sent 
by the bridegroom to invite the bride to come up ; 
but he doesn't return, nor is he expected to do 
otherwise than remain there, for this is a part of 
the marriage ceremony. The bridegroom again 
sends another messenger with the same message ; 
he also remains, and others are sent again soon 
after. This goes on till there are about forty or 
fifty men sent off to fetch the bride and party ^ 
Lastly a beast is sent down, and that makes the 
bride think it is about time she prepared to move. 
She then begins to put on her bridal ornaments 
which consist chiefly of a new skin skirt, made of 
an ox-hide, well greased and perfumed with 
" amaka," white ox tails on her arms and wrists, 
white and green beads (buma) round her neck, 
waist and ankles, sakabula feathers (Umnyakanya) 
on her head — a veil of beads (Invakaza) over her 
face, and a knife or an assagai in her hand, to 
flourish about whilst dancing. When the brides- 
maids have finished assisting her they put on their 
finery ; then they surround the bride and screen 
her with mats, so that no one can possibly see her 
before she appears before her future husband, whose 

4 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

part it is to see her first. She is thus carefully 
hidden all the way, but now and then she puts up 
her knife just to show whereabouts in the crowd 
she is. The bridegroom is generally found seated 
with some of his best friends on the ground in the 
cattle kraal or outside it, and the bride is brought 
before him in this fashion. When very near, the 
crowd falls back and the maids are allowed to come 
forward with their screened-up treasure, which is 
unveiled before him by drawing aside the mats. She 
kneels down and whispers the usual few words 
into his ears, which are : " Sengifikile. Ungipate 
kahle. Ungilahle nami sengiyakukulahla." (I 
have now come. You'll treat me well. You'll 
bury me and I'll bury you.) To which he answers : 
" Kulungile pelanawe ungipate kahle." (Agreed. 
You treat me well too.) After this the maids 
have their say (pela nawe), warning him to treat 
her kindly and lovingly or he may live to suffer for 
it, &c. They may say anything to him at this time. 
Then the old women come forward dancing in and 
out amongst the girls. They carry a mealie cob 
stuck on the point of an assagai. This they flourish 
about in the air for luck and prosperity. While 
this is going on the bridegroom and party hurry 
off to deck themselves out in their finery. This is 
always done after the bride has arrived. He wears 
a grand umutsha (kilt), made of cowhide and skin 
of an intsimangu (monkey), also white ox tails 
round his legs and arms, isaka (head ornament) of 
sakabula (long-tailed finch) feathers on his head, 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 5 

and he carries a knobkerrie and courting shield in 
his hand. If he is an ikehla (man with ring on 
his head) he has to wear a neat little isiqova 
(tuft) on his forehead, made of pretty feathers, and 
a longer one at the back of his head. 

When the bridegroom comes forward again with 
all his escort the dancing begins in earnest. His 
song is then rendered for the admiration of the 
bridal party and visitors. They go on dancing 
and singing it till they are fairly exhausted ; then 
they sit down and rest, while the bride, assisted by 
her maids, goes through her song in all its charming 
variations, the old women manoeuvring in and out 
of the crowd with the most graceful movements 
imaginable. When the bride has finished her part, 
the bridegroom comes in again with his, and they 
sing and dance together until dusk, when all the 
people return to their homes. Beer only is pro- 
vided on that day — nothing else. 

The next day the wedding feast takes place ; 
this is called " Ukuqolisca " (breakfast or recep- 
tion). Only relations and invited guests join in this. 
The bride on this day gives away all her girlish 
ornaments of beads, &c, to her sisters and her 
husband's sisters. She puts all the necklaces in a 
vessel and pours water over them, then takes them 
out, one by one, and throws them on the girls. 
This is the way she gives them away. 

On the third day the final part of the ceremony 
takes place. The bride has to try to run back to 
her home, with a child on her back belonging to 

6 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

her new home, for there are often several families 
in one kraal. If she is a good runner and manages 
to get there without being caught she wins a cow ; 
but this is a very difficult thing to do, for she is 
carefully watched, and the weight of the child on 
her back is a great hindrance. If she is lucky 
enough to win the prize her husband has to give it, 
to bring her back again, and that adds to the 
number of the lobola (dowry) cattle. 


Zulus used to consider it unlucky to have twins, 
and worse still to have triplets. The latter were 
always thought to be monkeys, and killed as soon 
as they were born. Only one of the former was 
allowed to live. Sometimes parents found it diffi- 
cult to decide which one to keep, although the rule 
was to kill the younger of the two. The greatest 
difficulty arose when the youngest one happened to 
be a girl ; for by killing her a fortune was lost — it 
meant losing ten or twenty head of cattle. 

Once a Zulu woman was in a difficulty of this 
kind. She had two lovely black babes, and loved 
both dearly, so she made up her mind to break the 
rule and keep them. But she and her husband 
suffered severely for it. They were continually 
reminded of having dared to break the rule of their 
country, and at last, when the twins were ten years 
old, and looked handsome and promising, their 
superstitious and envious neighbours threatened to 
report it to King Mpande. The parents' hearts 
sank within them, so they decided to take the boy 
to a mission station near, and offer him to " The 
Great-great-one," meaning God. He was accepted 
and taught. In time he became a Christian. His 

8 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

parents often went to see him, and his sister brought 
him presents of mealies and sweet potatoes. Five 
or six years went by, but still the fact that the old 
man had spared his son was not forgotten. At last 
the threat was carried out. He was reported at 
headquarters, and accused of being a wizard as well, 
because he was lucky in whatever he undertook. 
He and his five wives were very industrious ; they 
always planted large patches of mealies, Kafir 
corn (mabele), pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, 
so that they often had plenty of food and to 
spare when others were hard up. They were 
given to hospitality, and always pleased to help 
those in need, so it seemed rather strange that 
they had enemies. They had ten nice young 
daughters who could sing and dance well, and 
about the same number of sons, who were good 
hunters and kept them supplied with game. 
The chief men of that district were very jealous of 
this wealthy old farmer, and advised the king to do 
away with him and take his property. The king 
gave his consent, and almost immediately a band 
of men were told off to go and kill him, and to 
bring back his cattle and daughters. A company 
of the famous old " Ndhlondhlo" regiment set off, 
well armed with assagais, knobkerries, and shields. 
As they went along they flourished their weapons in 
the air with great pride. It was a good two days' 
journey they had to take, to this place in the thorn 
country. They arrived there about the middle of 
the second night and halting a few yards away, 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 9 

surrounded the kraal and lay down to rest in 
the high grass till dawn. As soon as it was 
light they got up and closed in round the kraal. 
The two men who were best acquainted with 
the owner, and who had often visited him, went 
up to the chief hut to inquire if he was stirring, 
for they said they were out hunting rather early, 
and would be grateful for a pinch of snuff to 
freshen them up a little. The kind old man, 
desirous to please as usual, opened the door of 
his hut at once and came out with his snuff-box. 
While he was in the act of giving them some, 
a volley was discharged at him, and he fell 
down dead on the spot. Women and children 
came running out in confusion from all the other 
huts to see what was the matter ; then two of the 
chief women were also killed. The other three 
were left to bury their husband, which they were 
soon made to do, being ordered to carry him off 
and throw him into a donga. The mealie pits 
were opened and destroyed. Then two fine beasts 
were butchered for breakfast. The men had rather 
more than they could eat, so they invited the girls 
to make a good meal, for they had a two days' 
journey before them to the king's kraal. The girls 
answered, " You invite us to eat while our parents' 
blood is still fresh on the ground ! We will not 
eat. Would that we could die too, and escape 
being made slaves to the king who has ruined 
our happy home. Oh ! ye spirits of our ancestors, 
pity us and take us out of this cruel misery ! " 

10 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

The twin boy, having heard in the early hours of 
the morning the fate of his people, hid in a cup- 
board at the mission house. He was called for, but 
he was nowhere to be found. The mission house 
was searched through and through, but fortunately 
no one thought he might be in the cupboard* 
When they had satisfied themselves that he was 
not there, they went off with the girls. It was 
pitiful to hear their cries. The men had no mercy, 
but went along joking and praising themselves for 
having managed so remarkably well. Such was life 
in Zululand before the Zulu war ! 

Soon after this affair another Zulu woman had 
twin girls, and the parents, having learnt a sad 
lesson, determined to observe the custom of their 
country. The younger one was killed, although 
she looked the healthier and finer. She was left to 
starve to death in a cold corner of the hut, while 
the other one was cuddled up and kept warm and 
fed. Strange to say, the chosen one pined and died 
a fortnight later, and the mother regretted not 
having kept the younger. 

This custom is no longer observed. It is now 
considered lucky to have twins, especially if they 
are girls ; for it means twenty head of cattle for the 
family at her marriage. 



There are many, no doubt, who know of 
the old cruel Zulu custom of " Ukugodusa '* 
(sending home), i.e., doing away with the aged 
people. If a man was too old and feeble 
to go to the king's kraal occasionally, and 
join his regiment whenever called out, the 
king would pick out a troop of men and say,. 
" Hamba niye kum'godusa " — meaning " go and 
send him home." Then this troop of men would 
travel miles away to the man's kraal, taking good 
care to get there by night, and to surround it, so 
as to pounce upon the poor old fellow as soon as 
he came out of his hut in the morning, and take 
him away to bury alive or otherwise kill him. The 
victim simply had to go away obediently, knowing 
it was the king's order, as well as the custom of 
his country. So all Zulu men, old and young, 
used to make a point of meeting at the king's 
kraal, " Komkulu " (at the great one's), especially 
at Christmas time, to show that they were still of 
service. If through illness they had to stay at 
home, and it could be proved that they were 
indisposed, the king excused them ; but they were 
most careful not to let it happen again. 

12 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

When women became helpless, and needed 
looking after, they, too, had to be " sent home/' and 
that was done by their own people. Even their 
own sons would order it to be done, and assist in 
the cruel performance. Here is one example of it. 
Once, two sons, wanting to get rid of their aged 
mother, tempted her out for a long walk to some 
dongas (dry watercourses with deep holes in the 
banks). (Zulu.) They took her to the deepest 
one and pushed her into it. The poor old creature 
hurt her ankle very badly, and could not get out 
again. She was in that donga two days and two 
nights, without food or a drop of water to drink. 
Maddened by hunger she made a despairing 
effort to scramble out, and fortunately managed it 
at last. Once on the level she found some wild 
berries and fruit, of which she made a good meal. 
This gave her a little strength to decide on her 
next move. Not daring to venture anywhere near 
her home again, she took a long journey to a 
mission station, and there begged to be taken in. 
The missionary and his family were very good to 
her, and gave her a home and taught her. In time 
she became a Christian, and it was most touching 
to hear her saying her prayers early in the morning. 
She prayed most earnestly for her sons who had 
forsaken her. 

Another old woman was daily threatened to be 
" sent home/' but a certain missionary's wife and 
daughters who used to visit the kraal begged that 
she should be spared. They took her some cover- 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 13 

ing occasionally, for she was helpless and often 
would sleep too near the fireplace and burn her 
blankets. Years went on in this way, until the 
missionary family had to take a trip to Durban 
to get supplies for the year. Then the mischief 
was done. On their return, great was their 
distress at finding the old woman no more. 
Her people had taken her to a very deep ant- 
bear hole and made her go in. Before obeying 
she meekly asked for a last pinch of snuff, which 
they could not deny her. She sat down to take 
her snuff, then stepped into the ant-bear hole. 
They filled it up with earth and buried her alive. 

11 Ukugodusa," one is thankful to know, is out 
of date now, as well as illegal. 




I feel that it would, perhaps, be wise to give 
one more proof to show that the above was a real 
custom amongst the Zulus, even as lately as in the 
days of King Cetshwayo. A poor old woman 
named Madokodo was another victim, besides 
Mfoto whom I mentioned before. Sometime in 
the beginning of 1869 Madokodo, on account of her 
old age, was thrown into a donga, or pit, by one 
of her sons and his friends, to get her out of the 
way, or send her home (godusa), as this was called. 

14 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

The poor old body was not in her second childhood 
(as Mfoto was), but was healthy and strong. She 
was in this pit for a few days, trying to get out, but 
kept falling back again. When night came she 
was in terror of the wolves and tigers which were 
prowling about the place ; but she knew there was 
a Great God above, and she prayed for His protec- 
tion. At last she managed to scrape a few holes in 
the donga with her finger nails, and made steps to 
climb up by, and the Great Almighty (Usomandhla) 
gave her strength to get out. Then she went to a 
great friend of hers, who fed her and kept her in a 
secret corner of her kraal until she got over her shock 
and became strong again. Madokodo then went 
to one of her other sons by night, and he was much 
pleased as well as surprised to see his mother alive ; 
but, fearing the elder and cruel brother might find 
her and try to carry out this cruel custom again, 
he thought it best not to keep her with him long, 
so he proposed taking her to a mission station and 
giving her to the missionary. The mother agreed 
to this, and the two went off together, travelling a 
good many miles till they reached St. Paul's Mission 
Station, the missionary there being my father, 
Rev. S. M. Samuelson. Arriving at the door of 
our house, poor old Madokodo, lame and footsore, 
called out in a pleading voice, " Ngitola Baba," 
" Ngitola Nkosi Yame ! " which means, " Adopt 
me, Father," " Adopt me, my Master." My father 
inquired into the matter, and all was related, her 
loving son supporting her. Nothing could be done 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 15 

but to save the poor old soul from future trouble* 
and to try to win her for Christ's Kingdom. My 
father took her under his care on August 13th, 
1869, an d the son took leave of his mother and 
returned home again. Madokodo slept in the 
kitchen, and my mother took great interest in 
her, for she was very intelligent, industrious and 
tidy. After a while Madokodo expressed a wish to 
join the Catechumen class, and be prepared for 
Baptism. She was very earnest ; for early in the 
morning, just about sunrise, we children heard 
her deep, pleading voice in prayer whilst we were 
still in our beds, " Baba wami Opezulu, ovele wa 
ngibheka, osangibhekile namanje, ngitola Mdali 
wami, tola nabanta bami, utetelele nalo ongilahli- 
leyo ! " (My Father above, Thou Who hast taken 
care of me from the very first, and Who art still 
caring for me, adopt me, my Creator, adopt also 
my children, and forgive the one who has thrown 
me away.") Then she would always finish with 
" The Lord's Prayer," which she had by then 
learnt. At the end of eight months she was baptized, 
and received the named Eva. She was, I believe, 
the first old woman who became a Christian at 
St. Paul's, and she was very happy after that, and 
helped in the mission work by setting an excellent 
example to the younger converts. News of the 
aged woman's conversion and baptism spread all 
over the country like wildfire, for Zulus, as a rule, 
are great news carriers. Her wicked son heard of 
it, for he had hoped she had reached her destina- 

16 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

tion long ago, as he had "sent her home." The 
middle-aged people bore her a grudge on account 
of her having become a Christian at her age, and, 
fearing others might do the same, clubbed together 
and made plans to get her out of the way ; so they 
accused her of witchcraft and reported her to King 
Cetshwayo. Eva at this time had had someone to 
help to build her a small hut, and she was cutting 
some high grass (tambootie) near a certain kraal, 
with which to thatch it. Meanwhile, illness 
(influenza colds) breaking out at this kraal, poor 
old Eva was accused of having caused this. 
The King, through his Prime Minister, 
Mnyamana, granted permission to have her 
killed. On the 4th of June, 1870 (Trinity 
Sunday), as we were just coming out of church, 
we were surprised by a large party of men 
(thirty in number) meeting us outside the church 
door, armed with assagais and knobkerries, with a 
demand from the King that Eva should be handed 
over to them to be killed ! Eva ran to her 
protector (my father), calling out, " Save me, 
save me ! M and caught hold of him round the 
waist, and the men pulling her away by force 
nearly tore his coat tails off. Then my younger 
brother Robert (R. C. Samuelson) interfered, and 
took hold of the woman, calling out, " Muyeke 
bo ! " (leave her) ; then one man, indignant with 
this interference, lifted up his knobkerrie over 
Robert's head, shouting : " Ngase ngiliqumuze 
ikanda kona manje" (I will break your skull 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 17 

this moment) ; then, of course, the poor woman 
had to go. She was driven by these thirty 
men six miles into the thorn country to 
river called Idango, near the Umhlatuzi river. 
We sat on the mountain, all of us, watching the 
long procession, Eva leading, the row of cruel 
humanity following in a long string. We watched 
and prayed broken-hearted, for we all loved poor 
old Eva ; but it was a comfort to know she was a 
Christian ! At last when we could see them no 
more we returned home, too dispirited to dine 
that day. In the evening someone told us she 
had met her fate bravely. As she went along 
she prayed to be received in the Heavenly Home 
of rest, where all unkindness and cruelty will end ! 
At Idango river they drove her to a very big pond, 
where crocodiles were often seen ; there they lifted 
up their kerries to brain her. She then said, 
" Ngogoduka impela namhla ! " (" I will, of a 
surety (indeed), go home to-day ! ") They then 
killed her and threw her into the pond for the 
crocodiles to eat. 

Such was life in Zululand before the Zulu war. 
And yet on the whole things had, in a way, improved 
since Tshaka's and Dingane's days. The life of a 
missionary with his family was not at all an enviable 
one, although the natives had great respect for 
them, knowing as they did that they lived in their 
country as friends and messengers of the Gospel. 
They liked the missionary, although they objected 
to his religion. 


The Zulus have a belief in the re-embodiment of 
departed spirits. Of this I remember having a 
practical illustration when, as a child, I was 
travelling about their country with my mother. 
We were about to visit a chief named Mqayikana. 
His kraal was close to the road, and as we were 
passing it we saw a nasty looking green snake. I 
picked up a stone and threw it at the reptile. In a 
moment a number of natives ran up and, seeing 
the snake, called out : " Leave it alone. It is the 
spirit of Mqayikana's father which has come to 
visit us. We killed a fat beast as an offering to it 
to-day, and prayed that it might come and taste 
the meat. For our chief Mqayikana is very ill, 
and we want to induce his father not to call him 
away just yet." I was young, and possibly a little 
indiscreet in those days, and replied : " Nonsense ! 
The snake is an accursed creature, and ought never 
to be spared, 1 ' and I threw another stone at it, just 
bruising its tail. " Stop ! Stop ! or you will suffer 
for it. As it is, your white skin alone has saved you. 
If you had been black you would never eat corn 
any more. You would have to die the death ! " 
Seeing that the men were in earnest and really 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 19 

excited, I thought it best to leave the snake alone. 
Had I not done so I might have been smelt out as 
a witch later on if anything had happened to 
Mqayikana. We sent the chief a small peace- 
offering in the shape of a packet of sugar, 
apologising for my unintentional rudeness to his 
father's ghost, and I am glad to say he proved 
himself not only forgiving but friendly, sending us 
a fine sheep, and even inviting us to come and 
take a pinch of snuff with him — a token of friend- 
ship among the Zulus ; but we, perhaps not 
imprudently, begged to be excused. 



The heathen Zulus still keep up this custom, 
chiefly in times of illness and death. The phrase 
means slaughtering cattle for departed ancestors, 
whose spirits appear in the form of a certain snake, 
which they hold sacred. It is called " Inyandezulu," 
and its colour is green with brown under the belly. 
No native in old days would have dared to kill this 
snake, for he would have been punished by death. 
If any one is taken seriously ill at a kraal, the 
doctor, who is sent for immediately, after having 
examined his patient orders the relations to make 
a sacrifice to the " Amadhlozi " (spirits), and pray 
for the recovery of the invalid. Then a beast 
has to be chosen from the herd for the purpose, 
or a sheep or goat from the flock. While the 
animal is being slaughtered, the chief man calls on 
the " Amadhlozi," saying, " Watch over us, O 
ye spirits of our fathers, I implore ! Take not 
this our child away from us yet. Here we are 
slaughtering this for you. Come into the hut 
to-night and feast on it, I pray. Then let your 
anger be turned from us, and let us keep our child. 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 21 

Oh ! look on us with pity, and hear us ! " After 
that the slaughtered animal is cut up in pieces and 
hung up in a hut ; even the blood is put there in 
an earthen vessel. A dish of water is also taken 
in and placed on the floor, and a snuff box full of 
snuff beside it. They firmly believe that the 
11 Idhlozi " comes in at night, has a wash, a pinch 
of snuff, and a taste of the meat and blood, and 
then returns into its hole again in a more forgiving 
mood. When the hut is entered in the morning 
nothing is seen of the " Idhlozi," not even any 
marks on the meat to show that it has tasted it at 
all, still they firmly believe the hut has been 
visited. The " usu " (paunch) is then taken out 
and given to the doctor for medical use. He has 
it boiled together with herbs and medicines, then 
he steams his patient with the mixture, and 
administers some of it inwardly. The "inson- 
yama " (right flank) is then cooked for the invalid, 
and he has to have a piece of it to eat every day as 
long as it is good. It is hung up in his hut, and 
there it hangs till it is quite high. It is looked 
upon as a charm. The rest of the meat can be 
eaten by the members of the kraal after it has been 
kept over . night in the hut for the " Idhlozi " 
(spirit). Another beast has to be killed for the 
doctor's special use while attending his patient. 
If the patient dies, an "Umtakati" (wizard) is 
blamed for it, and an " Ungoma" (witch doctor) is 
at once engaged to find him out. The doctor has 
nothing to do with that. He receives his fee and 

22 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

goes home. Soon after he leaves, the burial takes 
place privately. No outsiders are allowed to be 
present. The corpse is made to sit up, and tied in 
this posture. It is taken out to the grave, which 
is dug outside the hut, and seated in it. A stone 
is placed on the head to steady it, and all the 
deceased's possessions, clothing, mats, blankets, 
etc., are brought out and put into the grave — 
no one dares to keep any of them, for they are 
superstitious about it, believing that to use them 
would cause more deaths. There is no ceremony 
over the grave. Soon after it has been filled in, a 
mass of thorny bushes is stuck over it to keep 
" Abatakati" (wizards) from taking the body out 
to use in killing others. People then come in great 
numbers all round the kraal, crying out as loud 
as they can, " Maye babo ! wafa wen 'owakiti " 
("Woe, father! you died, you of our house"). 
They don't speak to the mourners that day, but 
return home after having had a good cry. All the 
relations who were at the funeral hurry off to the 
river soon after it is over to have a bathe. When 
they return, another beast is killed as a sacrifice to 
the " Idhlozi," with earnest prayers for the safety 
of the rest of the family. While it is being kept in 
the hut for " Idhlozi " to taste, all the members of 
that kraal have to chew medicines before partaking 
of anything, even a pinch of snuff. These medicines 
are used as a preventive against death. 

The natives mourn in this way. They throw 
aside all their ornaments for at least two months. 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 23 

They also have their heads shaved. They do not, 
as a rule, go out visiting during the two months of 
mourning, and they are not expected to go to 
dances or any festivities. They keep at home 
quietly. Absent relatives are all expected to come 
home for a couple of days to take medicine, and 
the comforting doctor comes with some of a 
soothing character. After ten days are over, 
visitors may come to " kala " (sympathize). They 
come quietly into the house of mourning, and sit 
down mute with their heads bent low for some 
time, and with arms crossed over the shoulders. 
At last a feeble voice is heard to say '" Sanibona " 
(" We see you ") : they answer, " Haw ! sikubona 
ngapi ufelwe nje. Siya kala wena wakiti ! " (Oh ! 
how do we see you having lost. We sympathize 
with you "). The visitors sit about an hour or two 
in the same position, quietly, as no conversation is 
permitted on such an occasion. They then go out 
without saying a word of farewell, only casting sad 
looks towards the mourners. During the two 
months of mourning a smelling Doctor is engaged 
to find out the witch or wizard, and the way this 
is done will be seen in the "Ingoboco" (Chief 
Witch Doctor) story. Any one not calling to 
u kala " after the tenth day is at once suspected as 
" Umtakati." So all make a point of showing 
themselves. Still the majority of them go out of 
kindness, for they do possess true and sympathizing 


As soon as a man holding the position of chief, 
or head of a kraal, is dead, the corpse is placed 
in a sitting posture with the back to the central 
post of his hut, the limbs being doubled up and 
tied together. A messenger is then sent out to call 
all the wives and friends of the deceased, and they, 
being collected in one place, set up a loud wailing, 
sufficient one would say to " waken the dead." 
The next thing is to separate the cows from their 
calves, so that they also make a most deafening 
noise, the calves lowing for their mothers, the cows 
lowing for their calves. 

The first outburst of grief having subsided, the 
sons and friends proceed to dig the grave. The 
eldest son begins first, as, according to native 
belief, the ground will then soften and yield more 
easily to the other diggers. He then hands on 
the hoe, which is the digging tool most generally 
used, to the son who is next in importance to 
himself, and so it is passed on in rotation till the 
grave is ready. The eldest son (inkosana), after 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 25 

doing his part, takes the barbed assagai which 
belonged to his father as head of the house, and 
stands holding it with the point to the ground until 
the work of digging is finished. A barbed assagai 
is handed down from generation to generation in 
native families, the holder being always the chief 
or head of the family or the acknowledged heir and 
successor, and in cases of disputed succession it is 
of the greatest importance to ascertain who held 
the assagai at the grave, and who began the 
digging, as well as who is the present possessor of 
the assagai. 

After the hole has been dug stones are placed in 
the grave for the body to be seated on, and it is 
set there by one of the sons of the chief wife, the 
man whose right it is to do this holding an im- 
portant position on the right-hand side of the 

When the grave has been filled in, the relations 
and friends go through the "ukugeza" or cleansing 
ceremony, taking a small portion of a powder 
made of three kinds of bitter roots. Through 
the taking of this powder it is supposed that death 
will be averted from the friends of the deceased, 
and that any ill effects which might arise from 
his death will be prevented. After this they all 
go down to the river and bathe, and the wailing 
is over. 

They then go into mourning for periods of time 
which vary from a few weeks to a whole year, 
according to the rank of the person mourned. 

26 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

The wife, children, and nearest relations show 
their mourning by allowing their hair to grow long. 
When the appointed time is over all the family and 
friends are again assembled and, the doctor being 
in attendance, a goat is killed, this being essential 
in the latest stage of the ceremonies. A decoction 
of bitter roots is made, and the gall of the goat 
emptied into it. The whole is then worked up into 
a froth, whilst the spirit of the dead man is called 
upon to take care of his children and to supply all 
their needs. Some of the mixture is sprinkled 
upon those who are present, the young people cut 
their hair short, and the old ones shave their heads ; 
a bathe in the river follows, and the mourning is 

When the head of a kraal dies, the whole kraal is 
removed to a fresh site. It must, however, remain 
for a year if he was a king or an hereditary chief, 
because in that case he would be buried there, and 
his grave must be carefully guarded against witches 
for that space of time. 

The graves of the kings in the Zulu country 
have always been watched, a kraal being erected 
near for the purpose. Should it happen that the 
inkosikazi (chief wife) has had no male issue, the 
head of the family can, on the marriage of his eldest 
daughter, use the ukulobola cattle received for her 
to buy a wife for himself or for some of his sons, 
and thus raise up male issue to be heirs to such 
head man's principal house. 


Before giving a description of an Inkata I must 
explain that it is not at all the same thing as the 
ordinary grass pad for supporting burthens on the 
head which goes by that name. * The Inkata now 
described is a larger thing, made of certain fibres 
which are very strong and binding. The doctor 

1 The word seems to be almost universal in the Bantu 
languages: — Nyanja, nkata; Luganda, enkata; Swahili, 
kata; Suto, khare. What is most curious is that, so far 
away as the Gold Coast we find an indication of ceremonial 
usages connected with this article. See the Journal of 
the African Society for July, 1908, p. 407. The Fanti word 
for it is ekar, which may be a merely accidental resemblance, 
or may point to a fundamental identity of roots in the 
West African and the Bantu languages. 

Possibly the root idea of -kata is "something coiled or 
rolled up," and this may be the only connection between the 
head-pad and the charm. The Baronga (Delagoa Bay) have 
a similar tribal talisman called mhamba, which is a set of 
balls, each containing the nail-parings and hair of a deceased 
chief, kneaded up with the dung of the cattle slaughtered at 
his funeral, and no doubt some kind of pitch to give it 
consistency. These balls are then enclosed in plaited leather 
thongs. The custom of thus preserving relics of dead chiefs 
is found elsewhere : the Cambridge Ethnological Museum 
possesses a set of the " regalia " of Unyoro, which would 
come under the same category. — Ed. 

28 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

specially deputed to make it knows exactly what 
fibres to use. He makes it in secret, sprinkles it 
with various concoctions, and finally winds the 
skin of a python round it, as this reptile is con- 
sidered the most powerful of animals, coiling itself 
round its prey and squeezing it to death, as it does. 
When the Inkata is finished all the full-grown men 
as well as the principal women of the tribe are 
summoned, and are sprinkled and given powders of 
various dried herbs to swallow. The men then go 
down to a river and drink certain mixtures, bathe 
in the river, and return to the kraal where the 
Inkata is made. They are then sprinkled a second 
time, and return to their homes. 

After this the Inkata is handed over by the doctor 
to the chiefs principal wife, and entrusted to her 
and to two or three others, to be withdrawn from 
the common gaze. It is taken great care of and 
passed on from generation to generation as part of 
the chiefs regalia. The Inkata is looked upon as 
the good spirit of the tribe, binding all together in 
one, and attracting back any deserter. 

The king or chief uses it on all great occasions 
— more especially on those of a civil nature. For 
instance, when a new chief is taking up the reins 
of government, the Inkata is brought out of its 
hiding-place, a circle is formed by the tribe, and it 
is placed on the ground in the centre. The new 
chief then, holding his father's weapons, stands on 
the Inkata while he is being proclaimed by his 
people. After this it is carefully put away again. 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 29 

In case of the king being taken ill the doctor seats 
himonthelnkata while he is " treating ,, him(elapa). 
It is also used in a variety of other royal cere- 
monies, and is looked upon as more sacred than the 
English Crown. It is, in fact, the guardian spirit 
or totem of a Zulu tribe. Yet, strange to say, it 
appears that nothing was known to the Judges of 
the Native High Court as to the existence of the 
Inkata, in a very important case 2 not long since 
tried there, when it was what might be termed the 
very essence of the case, and possibly injustice 
resulted from this ignorance of native laws and 

2 Rex v. Tshingumusi, Mbopeyana, and Mbombo. 1909. 


This feast was always arranged to take 
place at about Christmas time. Men of all ages 
were requested to go ; even young boys had to 
appear at it from all parts of Zululand. Those 
who were missed at this great gathering, and who 
were reported as being too aged to take the long 
journey, were ordered to be " sent home " by the 
king. Everyone had to bring his ornaments to 
adorn his person, and deck himself out suitably. 
These ornaments consisted of different coloured 
ox tails, feathers, and beads. Those who had 
distinguished themselves in battle wore horns of 
bravery besides, and certain kinds of roots round 
their necks. They also had to take food with 
them — enough to last for a week or longer — for 
the gathering always lasted four days at the least, 
and most of the people had to take long journeys 
to get to it. There were four different ceremonies 
to go through at that time in connection with 
"Ukunyatela" (feast of first fruits), and "Umkosi" 
(the feast). On the first day the ceremony of 
strangling a black bull and pulling it to pieces 
by mere force was performed. Mbonambi, the 
best and strongest regiment, was picked out to 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 31 

do this. Sometimes the black bull picked out 
for the purpose would happen to be grazing by 
the river, and the poor beast had to be attacked 
and pulled to pieces there ; or sometimes it 
would take place in the king's cattle kraal, and he 
would be present looking on. If done by the river 
side, all parts of the ox had to be carried home and 
placed before the king, so that he could see that 
it had been done without the assistance of knives* 
choppers or assagais. The beef was not to be 
eaten on any account. The next to handle it were 
the doctors. They brought a mixture of all sorts 
of medicines with which to smear the meat ; but 
the king must have a dose of it first. This was 
to give him a brave and cruel heart. When the 
king had taken his dose, the doctors used their 
mixed medicines to smear over all the beef and 
prepare it for roasting. Meanwhile the king's 
regiment, the Ingobamakosi (bend or humble), 
was busy getting wood to use for the purpose. 
This was supposed to be a great honour, and 
the king would pick a regiment specially for it. 
The doctors finished their allotted task and the 
Ingobamakosi arrived with the wood. They 
then cut strips of beef and roasted it until it was 
black. This was done by the Ingobamakosi at 
the last feast before the Zulu war. For, being 
the king's favourite regiment, he granted them 
more privileges than all the other regiments put 
together, and they were greatly envied on that 
account. It was galling to the rest that this 

32 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

young and proud corps was picked to roast 
the daubed beef ! for it gave them the right to 
have the first taste of the medicines after the 
king. If they went to battle, these would give 
them courage and make them fight to the last. 
They would never think of retreating. The men 
did not take the medicines in the same manner 
as the king. An officer would take a strip of 
roasted meat, bite a small piece off, suck the juice 
and swallow that only, spitting the meat out again, 
then pass the rest of the meat on to his men, and 
they would do the same. Then all the other 
regiments would follow suit. The meat was not 
passed in at all a polite way ; it was simply tossed 
up high into the air, and the next one had to catch 
it, take a bite, and toss it up again. After this the 
bones and horns of the beast had to be burnt to 
cinders. During these four days all the young 
lads old enough to join a corps had to " kreza." 
This is to draw the milk into their mouths and 
drink it warm, preparing themselves thereby to 
be made into a corps. The king would meanwhile 
choose a fitting name for the new regiment. 

A month before the feast the king generally 
sent a party of four men and two boys to the 
beach to look for a certain vegetable marrow 
growing near the sea. This species grows wild 
there, and has never been cultivated. Sometimes 
the marrow would be ready to pick early in the 
season and sometimes late ; and the time to begin 
the annual feast greatly depended upon this. They 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 33 

could not commence operations without knowing 
that the vegetable was ready, for it had to be used 
on the second day. Therefore the party sent off 
in search of it had to stay on the coast until it was 
fit to pick; they were on no account what- 
ever to return without it. On its arrival all is 
ready for the second day's performance, which 
proceeds as follows : The king and party rise 
very early and enter the great cattle kraal. Here 
the marrow is presented to the king, who receives 
and inspects it very carefully, and says a few words 
in a low voice over it, all the chief men standing 
round about him expectantly. Then the ceremony 
of tossing the marrow commences. The king 
throws it up in the air five or six times, catching it 
again like a ball, after that he throws it to the men, 
when it breaks perhaps into two or three pieces, and 
these again he throws to the men, and they by 
turns go through the same performance. Then 
they throw the broken pieces over the kraal to all 
the different regiments drawn up round it awaiting 
their turn at the tossing. This goes on until all 
have touched the marrow and broken it into small 
pieces. Then the king picks out of his herd 
another black bull, fiercer than the one of the day 
before, to be treated in the same way. It is 
said that it gives the warriors bravery and 
cruelty. At noon, when all the ceremonies are 
over, the king declares the " Feast of first fruits" 
at an end. He allows reed instruments (umtshingo 
and ivenge) to be played all through the country, 

34 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

so that all people may know they may now begin 
to eat green mealies, vegetable marrows, and 
pumpkins. Before the umtshingo and ivenge are 
heard no one may touch anything fresh out of the 
gardens, no matter how long the fruit or vegetables 
have been ripe (even if the people are starving), on 
penalty of death, or, later on, a heavy fine. It was 
against the laws of the country, too, to play the 
reed instruments before the king gave the order, 
being considered a greater offence even than eating 
green mealies before " Ukunyatela" (to tread) had 
taken place, for it was misleading the people ; there- 
fore the punishment for this offence was certain 
death. Umtshingo is the long hollow reed the 
natives play tunes on. It is a kind of flute ; there 
is no string to it. The ivenge is a short one with 
only two notes. Two of these instruments have 
to be played together to make a tune at all. The 
favourite air played on them is, " Ucakide ka bon' 
indod' isegunjini " (the weasel doesn't see the man 
who is in the corner). Some natives can play 
several nice tunes on the long reed. 

The great dance commences about 3 p.m. 
All have to " vunula M first (put on their orna- 
ments). They, of course, grease themselves well 
to make their dark bodies sleek and supple. All 
chiefs have black feathers of the indwa bird 
stuck in the centre of their head ring, just above 
the forehead. The younger chiefs wear black 
ostrich feathers in the same way. The grand old 
Mbonambi regiment carried plumes of black ostrich 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 35 

feathers. A shape of straw was first made (like 
the crown of a hat) and the feathers were neatly 
stitched on to cover it all. These plumes looked 
very graceful as the men came dancing and bowing 
before the king. All the regiments would simul- 
taneously beat their shields with knobkerries, and 
the noise would re-echo over the mountains like a 
fearful peal of thunder. The regimental orna- 
ments varied a great deal, as they were chosen to 
mark the different corps. The rest of the after- 
noon, until dark, was spent in dancing and singing 
" Ingoma ye nkosi" (National Anthem). The 
words were as follows : — 

" Abafo besab' inkosi (Strangers fear the king), 
Konj' uyaliwa (By the by you are rejected), 
Bamzonda bamyoliza (They hate him, they praise 

him) ; 
Konj' uyaliwa" (By the by you are rejected). 

It sounded really grand to hear thousands of men 
singing it, dancing, and keeping time with their 
feet, the words giving somewhat the effect of a 
" round," and the trampling of feet resembling 
distant thunder. The next morning, on looking 
round at the fields where the dance had taken place, 
one would find the grass beaten into the ground. 

The third day is usually spent in feasting and 
drinking beer. The king orders his chiefs to deal 
out a certain number of cattle to each regiment for 
slaughter early in the morning, so as to give them 

36 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

plenty of time to prepare the meat, and to have it 
cooked by noon, when the feast commences. After 
"all the meat has been devoured beer is brought 
round, and those who serve it out have to taste it 
first in front of everybody to show that it has not 
been poisoned. This is a standing rule at all beer 
drinks. No one will drink the beer before it has 
been tasted. The men sit down in circles, and the 
one who heads the circle has the first drink, and 
passes the earthen vessel to the next, and it travels 
all round the circle and comes back to him again, 
then he takes another drink and passes it ; this is 
repeated till there is no beer left. Talking goes on 
all the time — relating anecdotes, questioning and 
arguing as to which regiment danced the best, 
looked the best, or distinguished itself the most in 
any way. Now and then an " Imbhongi " (jester) 
comes forward, shouting praises to the king, and 
jumping about like a maniac, with long horns fixed 
on his forehead. He acts the wild bull, tearing the 
ground up with his horns, then leaps into the air, 
shouting the king's praises all the time. The people 
have to show their approval by praising and thank- 
ing him for his wonderful feats of agility. This 
afternoon the doctors are uncommonly busy 
preparing " Imshikaqo yemiti" (the mixture of 
medicines), to be ready for use the next day. The 
officers also are busy choosing places where the 
doctoring is to be done. 

On the fourth day each man in every regiment 
has to take the mixture of medicines, which acts as 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 37 

an emetic. In order to be fully prepared for the 
effects of the medicine, each regiment, in its allotted 
place, digs a deep trench. This is done very early 
in the morning. It is said by many who took this 
mixture that it made their hearts feel very bad 
indeed, full of cruelty and daring. This is the day, 
too, when the men felt most inclined to fight in 
order to try their strength. They would break out 
quite unexpectedly, without waiting orders from 
their king. At the last feast given before the Zulu 
war the ground was actually strewn with the dying 
and the dead. The blood of the favourite Ingoba- 
makosi regiment being heated and poisoned by 
the M Imshikaqo," they dashed forward to try 
their strength against another noted regiment, 
which, jealous of them, had been constantly 
provoking them to fight. 

Late in the afternoon of this great doctoring day 
the chiefs had to call up their men to stand before 
the king and hear the new laws given out. Soon 
after this, "ukubuta" (collecting) takes place. The 
boys who have come to " Kreza " (milk into their 
mouths), come forward to be "Butwa" (made into 
a regiment). The name is chosen and given out. 
So the lads go home holding their heads up high 
with pride, shouting as they go along, " We are 
soldiers of the king." After this has been done the 
king addresses the people, and fines those heavily 
who have been fighting and shedding blood. Then 
he praises those who have behaved best, and finally 
bids them all go home in peace. A good many 

38 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

men generally volunteered to stay on and " konza " 
(serve the king). There was always plenty of work 
for them to do in the fields, weeding mealies and 
minding amabele (Kafir corn) gardens — keeping the 
destructive little birds away from eating them. 
There was also a good deal of fencing to be done, 
for the king's kraal was an uncommonly large one, 
and had always to be kept neat and tidy. The 
men who volunteered to stay and work had to keep 
themselves in food. Very often they would run 
short and live only on water for days. Their people 
had to come long distances with it, carrying it on 
their heads, and sometimes they could ill be spared 
from home. They got no pay for their work, but a 
beast was given them occasionally for slaughter 
when all the work was finished. By the time they 
had to leave, a good many of them were reduced to 
mere skeletons, and could barely manage to drag 
themselves home. 

The annual feast is now a thing of the past, as 
there is no king, so is also the " Feast of the first 
fruits." The only part of it they keep up is taking 
a dose of the mixture each year before eating 
green mealies or vegetables. This they regard 
as a help towards making the green food agree 
with them, and that is alL 



This was a most important ceremony among the 
Zulus while they were still under their own rulers. 
The natives of Zululand, as all who know anything 
of their history will admit, were the bravest and 
most warlike of the coloured races, and were always 
ready to fight for their king and country. They 
never shirked their duty as soldiers, they were all 
trained to arms from boyhood, and felt it a dis- 
grace not to go out against the foe whenever called 
upon to do so. 

The ceremony of Ukuqwamba was invariably 
performed when there was to be war, and was 
supposed to make the men both brave and invul- 

A proclamation went forth to all the men, in the 
word " Maihlome " (Let them arm), and in a very 
short time the whole manhood of the nation 
mobilized and proceeded, fully equipped for war, to 
the chief kraal of the sovereign, encamping within 
a short distance. No women were permitted to 
come near, all supplies of food or other necessaries 
being brought by men or boys specially deputed 

40 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

for this service. The army, having assembled at 
its rendezvous, was then formed into a crescent, 
and the national war-doctor marched up in all his 
war-paint, when a very wild black bull was brought 
in, seized by some warriors selected for the 
occasion, and held down by them, while the doctor 
killed it by a blow with his axe on the nape of the 
neck. Meanwhile a large fire was lighted, and kept 
up while the beast was being flayed. Then its flesh 
was cut into long narrow strips, which were roughly 
roasted in the fire under the superintendence of the 
doctor, rubbed with a powder made of various roots 
and herbs and portions of the skins of lions and 
other fierce animals, and tossed up into the air 
among the soldiers, who had to catch them in their 
mouths, bite off a piece, and pass the rest on, till 
everyone had had a mouthful. Any piece which 
might chance to fall on the ground was left 

The doctor's attendants now brought him vessels 
full of a liquid composed of various medicines 
pounded and mixed with water, and the doctor 
sprinkled the warriors with it, shouting the while, 
" Umabope kabope, Umabope kabope" (let the 
Mabope tie up, that is, concentrate the strength of 
the army). 1 All were now ready, and without 

1 Umabope is explained in Colenso's Dictionary (p. 333) as 
" a climbing plant with red roots, bits of which are much 
worn about the neck." A note adds : "The root is chewed 
by Zulus when going to battle, the induna giving the word 
1 Lumani (bite) umabope ! ' which they do for a few minutes 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 41 

further delay set out to fight. The " tshela " (tela) 
or sprinkling was repeated in case of a reverse, but 
not the killing of a bull. 2 

The whole body was now drawn up in a crescent, 
representing the two horns of a bull about to thrust 
at the enemy, while the central part represented 
the face of the bull, which would drive them 

The war-doctor brings with him all the things 
required for carrying out the rites I have described, 
namely, an axe with a sharp point, a knife, the 
different medicines, and the sprinkler. This should 
be made of the tail of the gnu, or if this cannot be 
obtained, the tail of a black bull is used. All these 
things the doctor keeps in his own possession, 
carefully wrapped up in a mat. 

The whole of these ceremonies were gone through 
just before the Zulu war of 1879, and in addition 
to this the fighting men partook of a medicinal 
charm which was to repel the enemy (Intelezi 

We must not forget the women-folk who were 
left behind. Married women always wear a skirt 

and then spit it out again, saying * Nang'umabope ! ' (here 
is the umabope). The notion is that the foe will be bound 
in consequence to commit some foolish act." (The verb 
bopa means "tie.") 

2 The nearest translation that can be given in English of 
the word Ukuqwamba would be "Talisman," and "Ukuq- 
wanjiswa kwempi " may be rendered "The consecration of 
an army." 

42 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

made of ox-hide, the hair having been scraped oft* 
In ordinary life the upper edge of this is rolled 
outward, round the hips, but during war they turn 
the roll inside. The young girls throw ashes over 
their bodies, a sign of mourning, as wearing sack- 
cloth and ashes was among the Hebrews. The old 
women take their brooms and run along the roads 
sweeping with them, thus indicating that they 
would make a clean sweep of their enemies in all 
directions. This they call Ukutshaluza. 

Women also drink similar medicines to those 
taken by the men, but the preparation of them is 
somewhat different. A big fire is lighted outside 
the kraal, and a pot containing a number of roots 
possessing magical properties is put on, and left to 
simmer slowly till next morning, when the fresh 
milk of a cow is added, to whiten it. This is sup- 
posed to bring good luck. When it is ready, all 
the women and children sit round the pot, dip their 
fingers in it, and lick off the mixture. This is the 
Ukuncinda, or ceremony of sucking. After this, a 
cow is slaughtered for them to eat. Then they 
begin to sweep, smear the floors of their huts with 
cow-dung, and make all tidy. This is evidently to 
prepare for the return of the soldiers. Beer is 
made, and snuff ground, and all the snuff-boxes 
filled up, so that nothing shall be wanting. 

The Zulus " fight and die M ; there is no turning 
back, no retreating — for that only means death in 
the end, an inglorious death instead of a glorious 
one. Any who turned back would be killed by 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 43 

order of the king or chief. This was the law of 
the country in war-time. 

When attacking, the whole body of men made 
one big rush forward, shouting their clan name or 
war-cry, " Usutu ! " or " Mandhlakazi ! " 3 &c, as 
the case might be. 

On camping out for the night a watchword was 
was always agreed upon, unknown, of course, to 
the enemy, and to every passer-by they cried, 
" Who goes there ? " their own people, on giving 
the word, being allowed to go safely on their way. 
This, of course, is the same procedure as would be 
followed among other nationalities. 

3 Usutu is the name of the royal clan to which Cetshwayo 
belonged— Mandhlakazi being the house of Zibebu.— Ed. 



The office of Detector of Wizards was held by 
the Chief of Izanusi. He was the one chosen by 
the king to decide abatakati (wizard) cases. A 
big Umkamba tree, standing with its wide out- 
stretched branches between Mahlabatini and 
Ulundi Military Kraals, was the place where he 
took the appeal cases. (The former was Mpande's 
headquarters and the latter Cetshwayo's.) He 
heard only the most complicated cases in which 
the majority of people were dissatisfied with the 
inferior Zanusi's (detector of wizards) decision. I 
happened to be paying a short visit to these kraals 
during Cetshwayo's reign, when one morning early 
I saw a great number of people collected under the 
Umkamba tree, and on asking a native standing by 
what these men were assembled for was told that 
the king's chief, Sangoma, was about to " Buringo- 
boco " (inquire into the wizard's case whether the 
right judgment had been given). Then my friend 
and I went near the place to observe the proceed- 
ings. We saw the demoniacal Umgoma standing 
with his dreaded magic wand in his right hand, a 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 45 

black tail of "Inkonkoni" (gnu), and making fearful 
deep noises in his throat (bodhla), calling the spirits 
to help him to touch the right man with his wand. 
While doing this he would be walking round and 
round the people, now and then making sudden 
leaps into the air like a maniac, flourishing his 
dreaded wand, and all the accused would be 
awaiting the final touch with fear and trembling. 
The Imigoma (doctors) who had partly heard the 
cases would also be present, as well as relations of 
the accused, but none of them were supposed to 
say anything to the Ingoboco man : the amadhlozi 
(spirits) were to instruct him in everything. After 
having gone on till thoroughly exhausted with the 
antics described, he suddenly stops near his victim, 
whom he touches on the head with the Inkonkoni 
tail. The poor man has then to be taken off at 
once without even a word of remonstrance or a 
last farewell from his relations. He is driven off 
to Kwankata, a precipice over a deep pond in the 
Mfolozi River, which is full of crocodiles. This 
place is at no great distance from Ulundi. Having 
reached it the poor victim would be first stoned, 
then thrown down the precipice into the pond, 
where the crocodiles were always in readiness to 
receive him. They really lived on human beings. 

Happily the morning we were watching Ingo- 
boco the victim escaped most marvellously by 
running off at once to the king, who was standing 
in the cattle kraal, and throwing himself down at his 
feet, pleading for mercy, which was granted at once 

46 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

as a reward for his pluck and running powers. 
I am told that several others managed to save 
themselves in the same way, for it was quite an 
understood thing that if a man reached the king, 
outstripping all his pursuers, he would be saved. 
This also held good if a man reached King 
Mpande's grave in safety. No one would dare to 
touch him there. 



Icimamlilo is the name of a compound which is 
in use among the heathen Zulus in cases of murder 
or homicide, and so well is this known that if any 
person were found using it after a murder had been 
committed, that person would be strongly suspected 
of the crime. It consists of four or five kinds of 
very bitter roots, with pieces of the flesh of the 
following animals : a lion, a baboon, a jackal, a 
hyena, and an elephant, also a kind of hawk. All 
of these ingredients are essential, there are others 
which may be added, but which are not absolutely 
necessary. After all these things have been burnt 
to ashes and thoroughly mixed, the murderer or 
homicide swallows some of the powder, and mixing 
the rest with water sprinkles himself and goes off 
for a bathe ; then the purification is complete, and 
any evil effects upon the system which, according 
to native superstition may follow the killing of a 
human being, are counteracted. This custom of 
purification is still strictly kept up by the heathen 
natives, as a preventive against their own death, 
which they believe might otherwise naturally take 
place as a consequence of having killed another. 


In common with other backward races the Zulus 
have faith in the power of the rain doctors to 
make, or to draw, rain, and also to prevent it from 
falling. The Zulu kings generally kept rain 
doctors; but as these men, when they did not 
make enough rain to please their royal masters, 
were in danger of being fined or even put to death, 
they were obliged to invent a good many excuses 
for their failures. The most common was that 
they felt sure somebody was practising witchcraft, 
that is to say, putting pegs dipped in medicine into 
the ground, or tying knots in the grass on the 
mountain-tops and sprinkling them with medicines, 
either of which proceedings would stop the rain. 
Then the king would send messengers round the 
country commanding his subjects to find out where 
pegs had been driven in, or knots tied in the 
grass, and the owner of the kraal in whose neigh- 
bourhood this was found to have been done was 
liable to be killed or fined, at the king's discretion. 
In a dry season people were constantly in fear of 
this happening, for they knew that any who wished 
to injure them would drive in pegs near their kraals 
and then report them to the king for having 
done it. 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 49 

Cetshwayo once had a rain doctor of whom he 
thought a great deal ; but one year when there was 
a terrible drought he lost faith in him, and then 
someone accused him to the king of having wilfully 
prevented the rain from falling. Of course this 
made his majesty furiously angry, and he ordered 
the unfortunate man to be killed and thrown into 
the river, together with his hut and everything he 
possessed. No sooner was this order carried out 
than the rain fell in torrents. Such is the story told 
by the natives, but I cannot vouch for the truth of it. 1 

The Zulus used to consider the Basuto rain 
doctors the best of any, and the king sometimes 
engaged some of them to come to Zululand when 
rain was wanted. One year a large number of 
them arrived, laden with roots and other medicines, 
from Basutoland. Some carried calabashes filled 
with liquids, which were rolled about on the ground 
at the cattle-kraal to bring thunder, and bundles 
containing charms to bring lightning and rain were 
stuck upright in the ground. These performances 
went on for some weeks, until at last the rain came, 
and the Zulus were satisfied that it was caused by 
the hard work of the Basuto doctors. These men 
were kept well supplied with beef and beer all the 
time they were in the country, and handsome 
presents were given them when they left it to return 
to their own land. 

1 This story scarcely seems to be consistent with 
Cetshwayo' s character. He was certainly a sceptic as 
regards witchcraft. — Ed. 


The Zulus believe in a glorious being whom 
they call the Queen of Heaven, of great and 
wondrous beauty, and the rainbow is supposed to 
be an emanation of her glory. This " Queen of 
Heaven " (Inkosikazi) is a different person from the 
Heavenly Princess, to whom the young girls pray 
regularly once a year, as described on another 
page. 1 

1 The rainbow is called utingo lwenkosikazi, " The Queen's 
Bow." See Callaway, Nursery Tales and Traditions of the 
Zulus, p. 193. Utingo, however, is not "a bow" in our 
sense (at any rate not in current Zulu speech), but a bent 
stick or wattle, such as is used in making the framework of 
a hut. It is difficult to ascertain anything about this 
inkosikazi ; but the Zulu women hold dances on the hills in 
honour of some Inkosazana — an echo, it may be, of the 
story of Jephtha's daughter. 

Mr. Dudley Kidd (The Essential Kafir, p. 112) seems to 
have confused her with Nomkubulwana, who, as Miss 
Samuelson expressly tells us, is not the same person. It is 
not clear whether she is identical with the mysterious being 
called "Inkosazana," of whom the late Bishop Callaway 
says : M The following superstition .... appears to be the 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 51 

Some believe that there is a gorgeously coloured 
animal at the point where the rainbow appears to 
come in contact with the earth, and that it would 
cause the death of any who caught sight of it. 2 

The natives as a rule are very superstitious about 
the lightning ; if it has struck anything they say 
" the heavens did it," they dare not speak of it by 
name. A person killed by lightning is buried 
without ceremony, and there is no mourning for 
him; a tree which has been struck may not be 
used for fuel ; the flesh of any animal so killed is 
not to be eaten ; huts which have been injured by 
lightning are abandoned, and very often the whole 
kraal is removed. Persons living in such a kraal 

relic of some very old worship ' ' (Religious System of the 
Amazulu, p. 253). 

She was supposed to appear, or rather to be heard speak- 
ing (for she was never seen), in lonely places, and predicted 
the future, or gave directions which had to be obeyed by the 
people. "It is she who introduces many fashions among 
black men. She orders the children to be weaned earlier 

than usual Sometimes she orders much beer to be 

made and poured out on the mountain. And all the tribes 
make beer, each chief and his tribe ; the beer is poured on 
the mountain ; and they thus free themselves from blame. 
.... I never heard that they pray to her for anything, for 
she does not dwell with men, but in the forest, and is 
unexpectedly met with by a man who has gone out about his 
own affairs, and he brings back her message." — Ed. 

2 The Congo people believe the rainbow to be a snake 
(chama) as do the Yorubas (Oshumare). (See Mr. Dennett's 
At the Back of the Black Man's Mind (p. 142), and Nigerian 
Studies (p. 217). — Ed. 

52 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

may not visit their friends, nor may their friends 
visit them, until they have been purified and pro- 
nounced clean by the doctor. They are not allowed 
to dispose of their cattle until they also have been 
attended to by the doctor : even the milk is 
considered unclean, and people abstain from 
drinking it. 

An eclipse or an earthquake foretells a great 
calamity, and the natives are terrified whenever an 
eclipse takes place. The defeat of Cetshwayo by 
Uzibebu a few hours after an earthquake, which 
was felt all through Zululand in 1883, naturally 
confirmed them in the belief that it is an evil 
omen. 3 

3 The earthquake referred to took place in 1883, during the 
night which preceded Cetshwayo's defeat by Usibebu at 
Ulundi. My sister (Mrs. Faye) and I were camped out 
some ten miles from Melmoth, when, about midnight, the 
wagonette in which we were sleeping was shaken and began 
to move down hill, but was fortunately stopped after a few 
yards by a block of wood lying in the grass. The natives 
who were near us exclaimed that it meant a calamity 
to the Zulu nation. And in the morning, when we 
got down from the wagonette, we found a great number of 
men sitting about looking sad, with their arms over their 
shoulders (meaning "we are lost"). They told us that 
Cetshwayo had been killed by Usibebu ; in fact, the latter 
had made a clean sweep of the royal kraal and all the king's 
men. In less than an hour later we saw numbers of people, 
some running, some limping, some crawling past us, who had 
just managed to escape with their lives. Cetshwayo, wounded 
badly in the leg, was saved, and taken for protection to 
Eshowe, where he died early in the following year. (See 
Mr. Gibson's The Story of the Zulus, p. 256, new edition.) 



A description of an old Zulu custom which 
is now slowly dying out may be found interesting. 
It is generally observed at the season when the 
mealies and mabele (Kafir corn) are coming into 

The Zulus believe that there is a certain Princess 
in Heaven, who bears the name of Nomkubulwana 
(Heavenly Princess), and who occasionally visits 
their cornfields and causes them to bear abun- 
dantly. For this princess they very often set apart 
a small piece of cultivated land as a present, putting 
little pots of beer in it for her to drink when she 
goes on her rounds. They often sprinkle the 
mealies and mabele with s6me of the beer, for luck 
to the harvest. 

There is one day appointed specially for girls, 
when they go out fasting on to the hills, and 
spend the whole day weeping, fasting, and praying, 
as they think that the more they fast and weep the 
more likely they are to be pitied by the princess. 
On that day they have to wear men's clothing 
(umutsha) made of skins, and all men and boys are 

54 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

to keep out of their way, neither speaking to them 
nor looking at them. 

They start very early, as by sunrise they must 
be by the riverside, ready to begin praying and 
weeping. 1 

Digging deep holes in the sand, they make two 
or three little girls sit in them, and fill them in 
again, till nothing but their heads are left showing 
above ground. There they must remain, weeping 

1 Cf. an account of this custom (umtshopi) in Cf>lenso's 
Zulu Dictionary, p. 614. A similar observance, intended to 
avert disease, is described by Mrs. Hugh Lancaster Carbutt 
in the (South African) Folk-Lore Journal for January, 1880 
(Vol. II., p. 12), as follows : '* Among the charms to prevent 
sickness from visiting a kraal is the umkuba, or custom of 
the girls herding the cattle for a day. [Umkuba means 
"custom," it is not the name of this particular rite.] No 
special season of the year is set apart for this custom. It is 
merely enacted when diseases are known to be prevalent. On 
such an occasion all the girls and unmarried women of a 
kraal rise early in the morning, dress themselves entirely in 
their brothers' skins [i.e., skin kilts (umutsha)], and, taking 
their knobkerries and sticks, open the cattle-pen or kraal, and 
drive the cattle away from the vicinity of the homestead, none 
of these soi-disant herds returning home, or going near a 
kraal, until sunset, when they bring the cattle back. No one of 
the opposite sex dare go near the girls on this day, or speak 
to them." — We have reproduced the passage in full, as the 
periodical which contains it is now very scarce. It should 
be noted that at ordinary times it would be contrary to 
custom — indeed, highly improper, if not sacrilegious — for 
any woman or girl to approach the cattle-kraal, to say nothing 
of herding the cattle. The idea is, no doubt, to compel the 
assistance of the Unseen by some flagrant outrage on decency, 
actual or threatened. — Ed. 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 55 

and praying for some time. Girls about six years 
old are generally chosen for this purpose, as they 
cry the most (rather from fright than anything else), 
and so are most likely to catch the ear of the 
heavenly princess. 

When the older girls think the poor little things 
have done their fair share, they help them out and 
let them run home. 

The big girls then go to the mountains and weep ; 
after that to their gardens, round which they walk, 
screaming to the heavenly princess to have pity on 
them and give them a good harvest. 

After this they sprinkle the gardens with beer, 
and set little pots of it here and there for the 

About sunset the ceremonies are over, and they 
all go back to the river to bathe, after which they 
return to their homes and break their fast. Any 
girls refusing to join with the others on Nomkubul- 
wana's day would lose caste, unless prevented by 
illness. Of course Christian girls are not expected 
to join, this being an entirely heathen rite. 


In addition to the many beliefs amongst the 
Zulus, of which I have given some examples, which 
may be properly called superstitious, there are a 
large number of curious half-beliefs and traditions, 
something of the nature of " old wives' tales," to 
which allusion is made more or less seriously in 
the ordinary course of Zulu conversation, and 
which often come as a surprise to the uninitiated 
European. I remember being much struck with 
some of these many years ago (as far back as in 
1872), when my father took me as a child for a 
journey through Zululand on a visit to the great 
kraal of the celebrated King Mpande. On the 
way, as I was getting somewhat tired, a friendly 
Zulu told me to press my foot on an aloe (icena), 
and I should not be tired any longer. I saw no 
particular harm in obeying the injunction, and 
whether it was from the effect of the " icena," or a 
thought cure wrought by the friendly Zulu, I 
certainly managed to get on. 

On the same journey I was struck by a curious 
idea the Zulus have (somewhat akin to our 
" watched pot never boils ") as to disturbing the 
ordinary processes of the vegetable kingdom. I 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 57 

noticed some fine varieties of pumpkins, melons, 
and marrows, and, being curious to know their 
names, I pointed my finger at them. " Musa, 
musa" (don't, don't), shouted my native conductor, 
"they will never ripen if you point at them. You 
ought always to bend your fingers and point with 
your knuckles towards vegetables." " Oh," said I, 
11 you might perhaps pick me that pumpkin (indi- 
cating one of the best), as it is the only one I 
pointed at, and it will prevent its rotting," and he 
at once fell in with my suggestion, adding a few 
marrows growing near the pumpkin, which had 
also been in peril. Some of our mistakes in dealing 
with the Zulus might at times lead to serious 
consequences ; but fortunately, as a rule they take 
them good naturedly, and attribute them to our 

It is rather curious, and perhaps a little humili- 
ating, to civilized and superior people, to find one 
of their favourite nursery tactics — the threat of the 
black man coming down the chimney — in vogue 
(mutatis mutandis) among the Zulus. Fond Zulu 
mothers used to reduce their refractory offspring 
to order by the threat, " I'll take you away to be 
eaten up by the white men," and in the old times 
of which I am now speaking the threat always 
had the desired effect, though, let us hope in the 
present day, the notion of our being cannibals, if 
not bogies, no longer exists, even among the Zulus. 

I well remember the day when we were 
graciously admitted to an audience with King 

58 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

Mpande, and the curious kind of awe with which 
the monarch and his attendants regarded us. The 
King spoke to us through his chief official, and 
courteously welcomed us to his Place, hoping we 
had not been disturbed by a big fight which had 
taken place in connection with some festivities 
among the Zulus near to us. It was a way his 
subjects had when their blood was heated, and he 
had done his best to stop it. He then noticed my 
long brown hair, which hung down to my waist, 
and observed, " What nice tails you have adorned 
yourself with ! where did you get them ? I should 
like some like that." I said I had a private store 
from which I got them, and should not like anyone 
else to know. King Mpande smiled, and took it 
all in good part. I was the first white girl he had 
seen, and he looked therefore upon me as a 

" Come nearer," he said, " and take off your hat, 
so that I can have a good look at you. How do 
you manage to tie the tails so neatly that no 
strings are seen ? M He pulled and tugged at my 
hair, to see whether it would come off. 

u Why, this is wonderful ! " said he. " These 
are the tails they make under the sea. There's 
nothing on land equal to this." 

" I glue them on," said I. 

" Wow ! It is well done ! Do show us how 
you do it." 

It was beyond human nature to keep a serious 
face after that. We all burst out laughing 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 59 

together. Then I told him that it was only my 

" Ngimdala ! " (I am old) said the king (meaning 
in wisdom) ; and I was asked to go round for 
fuller inspection. The king noticed my hands. 
He said : " Her hands have a different colour to 
her face ! Come nearer again, let me have a look 
at your hands." I obeyed. He took my hand 
and felt it all over. " Mamo ! " (oh ! mother) " the 
skin moves. It is quite loose, and look how red it 
is." I had a pair of scarlet silk gloves on. I 
pulled one off, an incident which caused a pro- 
digious sensation in the royal hut. Exclamations 
of surprise were heard all round. " White girls 
are double skinned," said one, " on their hands." 
" They have a white skin to suit their face, and 
this is covered by a loose, dark red skin," said 
the king. " Behold the artfulness of the white 
beings that come out of the sea." The glove 
was carefully examined, and one man, with fear 
and trembling, picked it up with the tips of his 
fingers, but speedily dropped it again in horror and 
dismay. My father then explained to them as best 
he could that ladies wore gloves to protect their 
hands from getting sunburnt, and we took leave of 
the mighty king. 

Outside the door we were met by a number 
of his royal daughters, all wanting to have a 
look at the girl from under the sea and her 
wonderful hair and hands. When they had satisfied 
their curiosity, they asked us to come and call on 

60 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

Giba, King Mpande's celebrated snake charmer. 
He was sitting in his hut training his numerous 
snakes to go and come in to and out of their holes 
as he wanted them. 

A great monster of a python was coiled round a 
stone in a corner, lazily watching his inferiors at 
their drill, and waiting his turn. " Ngqabitani " 
(the snake's name, which means " hop down"), 
called out Giba, and the monster made a move and 
came with a twist and a roll, and was rewarded by 
a fowl to eat. It was a horrible performance. 

The tendency which the Zulu has, in common 
with all savage or half-civilized people, to ascribe 
anything unusual to magic, and to account for the 
unknown by fanciful analogy (the basis, indeed, of 
most of the vulgar superstitions), was curiously 
illustrated in this journey by a chief whom we met 
and to whom my father gave a small mirror. The 
Zulu looked into it, gave a start, and dropped it to 
the ground. " Why, it is myself ; I know, for I 
have seen a reflection of myself in a clear pool. 
These people carry mysterious things with them. 1 ' 
He picked it up gingerly, and handed it to his 
chief man, who, after examining it with the caution 
that a detective might display in opening a parcel 
supposed to contain dynamite, handed it round to 
the attendants, each of whom made a study of the 
"ego" and the "non ego" in the wonderful 
"charm," which they took to their home and 
sealed up in an earthen pot. 

Such are some of the curious ideas which were 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 61 

entertained by the Zulus as to the white man in 
the old days. Since that time increased inter- 
course with the white creatures from under the sea 
has dissipated some of their old delusions, but 
even to this day a large number of the natives look 
upon the white man as something weird, as a being 
who can do anything, and who has about him a 
touch of the mysterious, if not of the supernatural. 
Fortunately for us these ideas have never taken a 
very serious hold on the native mind. They look 
upon us as strange curiosities, but do not seriously 
associate our doings with the " black arts," ready 
as they are to attribute dealings with forbidden 
agencies to their own people. It would have gone 
hard with us in the early days if any influential 
chief had conceived the idea, so readily seized by 
the Chinese, of designating all Europeans " foreign 
devils " — " Takati ' ' (wizards) — with unknown 
powers and malignant designs. Our just and 
large-minded treatment of them has prevented the 
spread of any such notions amongst them. Their 
mental attitude towards us at the present day is 
one of bewildered simplicity, not unmingled with 
respect, and, when their confidence is obtained, with 
something of the loyal affection they have long been 
accustomed to entertain towards their own chiefs 
and superiors. 


During King Mpande's reign there lived in his 
chief kraal a most noted and wonderful snake- 
charmer, who was spoken of far and wide with 
great awe. He was looked upon as one who was 
in constant communication with the spirits, as all 
snakes obeyed him. He was tall and slim, with 
a withered right arm and a crooked forefinger. 
It was quite an easy task for him to catch snakes 
in bushes, and he could even draw them out of 
their holes with his crooked finger. He said he 
had certain kinds of medicines which he always 
took, and also injected into his right arm and finger 
before setting out snake-catching in the mornings, 
and these prevented snake bites having any effect 
on him — in fact, he felt quite safe anywhere. He 
would sometimes take long journeys in search of 
various kinds of snakes, and on his return would 
call on people living near the roadside that he 
might exhibit them. He generally took two or 
three boys with him to carry them, and they had 
special bags made for them of water-broom rushes. 
I shall never forget the day when the snake-charmer 
called at our house and asked whether we should 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 63 

like to see two big snakes he had caught that day. 
At first we felt rather scared, although, at the same 
time, we were curious to see them, for we had 
heard a great deal about this snake-charmer. So 
we allowed him to get them out and show us what 
he could do with them. He ordered the boys to 
open the bags, then gave two or three whistles, 
and the snakes came crawling out very slowly and 
carefully. He then drew a winding mark on the 
ground with his rod, which they most obediently 
followed, hissing and sticking out their tongues 
now and then, and looking about to see which way 
they were to go next, and he said that this was all 
he had been able to teach them that morning. 
He put down his rod a moment, then one of the 
snakes made for the kitchen door, where three 
native girls were standing, and it went part of the 
way in before he could stop it. The girls were 
half mad with fright ; one climbed on the table, 
another on the shelf, and the third went up the 
chimney : there was a terrible scrimmage. But 
the man soon made the snake go into the bag 
again. I then thought I would have some fun, so I 
went into my room to fetch a big toy snake which 
I kept in the window to prevent the natives from 
Standing about there and using it as a mirror. 
When I brought it out, moving and wriggling 
about in my hand, the charmer took to flight. It 
was an ugly green and yellow thing, with open 
red mouth. The man said his medicines would be 
no preventive against a bite from this strange 

64 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

kind of snake, of which he knew nothing. But 
when I told him it was only a toy, he had a good 
laugh over his fright. Soon after his return to his 
hut at the king's kraal we heard that some 
gentlemen had gone up to pay him a visit and to 
ask him to let them see his snakes. When he 
went away his hut would be quite safe, for the 
snakes were always on the look out for strangers. 
The gentlemen thought it prudent to keep at a 
good distance until the owner of the hut and snakes 
appeared. After the usual greetings and introduc- 
tions had been gone through, the man said, " I hear 
you would like to see my pets ; how much will you 
pay me for it ? " They answered that they were 
travellers, and had not much with them, but that 
they would give him a blanket each. So he made them 
go into a corner of his hut and sit down on a mat. 
Presently he called out " Ngqabitani " ! (his chief 
snake), and it came out with a majestic twist of 
satisfaction. Then he whistled for another, grunted 
for another, groaned for a third, hissed for a fourth, 
and then rattled for the whole lot. They came out by 
the dozen ; the visitors found themselves surrounded 
by snakes of all sorts and sizes, the great python 
wriggling and twisting impatiently, with a look as 
much as to say, " I could swallow the whole of you 
if only my master would allow me." The man sat 
coolly at the door of his hut enjoying the fun. The 
gentlemen called out, " Enough ! enough ! we have 
seen your pets ; do for pity's sake call them back!" 
The man said, " How much will you give me ? " 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 65 

The answer was, " Ten blankets each — anything 
you like — all we possess ; only clear off your pets 
and let us out of this trap." He answered, " You 
shall have your wish my good friends," and then 
made the usual noises, when they all promptly 
returned to their holes. The gentlemen heaved a 
sigh of relief, paid the man, but never will they ask 
to see his pets again. They were quite satisfied. 


The Zulu people believe that our first parents 
came out of a reed. The Great-great-one made 
the reed to open, and forth came a man and a 
woman. Some years after, He sent a messenger 
to inform the people that they were to live for even 
This messenger, being a chameleon, was very slow 
in fulfilling its errand. On the way it espied some 
nice berries, of which it is very fond, and it spent 
quite an age in climbing up the shrub to pick and 
eat the sweet little fruit. It thought that it 
was unnecessary to hurry with the message — 
the people could wait : so it was at no pains 
to perform His mission. Meanwhile the Great- 
great-one sent a second messenger to tell the 
people that they were to die. This messenger 
(being a kind of lizard, or salamander) was much 
quicker in its movements, and so, arriving in the 
world long before the chameleon even thought it 
had had enough berries to eat, it proclaimed to 
men: "The Great-great-one says you must all 
die." When at length the first-sent messenger 
came, it was too late, for people were already 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 67 

dying, and the fate of the rest could not be 
changed. And they said : " Why did you delay 
when sent by the Great-great-one ? You detestable 
little, slow, crawling creature ! You shall be hated 
for ever and ever." The natives still abhor this 
creature in connection with the legend. They 
always ill-treat it, delighting to fill its mouth with 
snuff, which turns it black. 


If a native sends a present of meat to his chief, 
or anyone he respects as far above him, he will 
generally send the Insonyama, that is, the part of 
the flesh of a slaughtered bullock or cow which 
covers the ribs and is separated from them by a 
moist substance which makes it very easy of 
removal. This is, in native estimation, the choicest 
meat, and is always eaten by the head of a family. 
This is a useful piece of knowledge for those who 
have to do with native cases which concern dis- 
puted inheritance. If an ox is slaughtered which 
belongs to any other house of the same family, the 
insonyama is always taken to be eaten in the 
superior's hut. If the insonyama is taken as a 
present to a superior friend, it is always considered 
a great compliment to cook it beforehand and roll 
it up nicely in a clean mat (isitebe) ready to be 


The Zulus are a very kind and hospitable race, 
always willing to share their food with others in 
need. In times of famine they have a way of 
asking help from each other without any intention 
of returning the same ; this they call Ukutekela. 
Sometimes on meeting one another by the way, 
after the usual greetings, one says to the other, 
" I am coming to beg (tekela) mealies (or potatoes) 
of you to-morrow " ; the answer would be, " All 
right," with a laugh, " you may come." 

Tekela really means begging or obtaining food, 
corn or potatoes, from another, sometimes getting 
it as a reward for assisting to reap or weed, or as a 
gift. It is one of the oldest customs which the 
natives have. 

For instance, a woman may go on a visit to 
relations or friends, and remain with them for a 
short time, and while staying there assist in what- 
ever work is going on at the time of her visit. 
Then when she leaves to return home she may be 
given grain of some kind to take with her, if there 
is a fair supply at the kraal. A visitor hardly ever 


70 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

returns home empty handed. Only in times of 
famine would it be possible. 

Help given one to another in reaping cornfields 
is very commonly acknowledged in the same 

When the gardens need weeding a day is 
arranged on which to invite friends to a beer-drink. 
The guests arrive about sunrise and weed till about 
three o'clock, when the beer is brought out ; but 
no one except those who have assisted in the work 
will have a share in it, unless they happen to be 
travellers or too old to work. 

Natives will do a great deal to obtain beer, which 
is the reason why the native fields are usually so 
free from weeds. But it is seldom used before the 
allotted work is done — a very necessary restriction ! 


Very few people, I believe, know this Zulu custom 
of making friends. After a severe quarrel natives 
will not condescend to take snuff together on any 
account, although they have been the best of 
friends for years. It is not till their quarrel has 
been settled and their tempers cooled down that 
they can begin to say, " Ngi ncwebise ugwai " (give 
me a pinch of snuff) — and even then the one 
asked may refuse and say " 'Tis too soon my 
friend, irritate me not, I pray." The following is 
an instance : — 

Two handsome young men, who had been 
friends ever since they were quite little lads, and who 
had joined the same regiment, fell in love with a 
very beautiful girl, who was a chiefs daughter. 
These young men were inseparable ; wherever the 
one went the other was sure to go. Whether it 
was to a hunt, beer drink, wedding, or dance they 
always went together. There was a certain chief 
who took a liking to these two young men, for 
they were very cheerful and amusing, so he 
encouraged them to come to all his entertainments. 

72 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

One used to ornament himself with white beads 
and tigers' claws and white ostrich feathers, the 
other with red beads and black and red feathers. 
They each carried a nice assagai and a couple of 
knobkerries and a courting shield. They always 
looked neat and nice, for they made a point of 
greasing themselves well before setting out any- 

This chief had a most beautiful daughter who 
was greatly beloved by old and young, for she 
was kind and pleasant to everybody. Her father 
always chose her to serve the beer round to the 
visitors, she did it so gracefully and willingly. 
These two young men were greatly struck with the 
girl, and both fell in love with her. The one in 
red decided at once to win her, but how to set 
about it was a puzzle, for he never before had gone 
anywhere without his friend, and he didn't know 
what excuse to make to go off alone. But the 
next day he got a very good opportunity, for 
his friend was taken ill and could not attend 
a dance he had promised to go to. The one in 
red had to go alone and make excuses for the 
other. Between the dances he got a chance to 
try his luck with the young lady, and was rejected 
at once for having the impudence to wear the 
Royal colours. (Those red beads were worn in 
those days only by royalty, also the red parrot 
feathers.) This maiden thought he could not be 
trusted : he would venture too much, and end by 
getting killed. 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 73 

He went back disappointed and annoyed, but did 
not let his friend know anything about it, for he 
intended to try again. When his friend had re- 
covered they went together to call on the chief* 
His daughter brought in some beer. It was 
noticed that she paid most attention to the one in 
white, and of course that gave him hope at once. 
As soon as she left the hut the young man said : 
" Your daughter, chief of the great house, has won 
my heart. How much would you want for her ? 
How many head of cattle ? " 

The chief answered, "You are a handsome, 
promising lad. Of another I should ask for her sixty, 
but I would let you off with thirty." 

The young man was delighted with this answer. 
He took the very next opportunity to propose and 
was accepted. 

His friend was furiously angry, and swore a 
solemn oath that now their friendship had come 
to an end, and they would be enemies for the rest of 
their lives, " For," said he, " I was first in the field." 

They parted there and then. The lucky man 
sent the thirty head of cattle the very next day to 
make sure of his future bride, and the matter was 
properly settled. He was very happy, but still he 
missed his dear old friend who had left him in 

Whenever they met, he said to him, " dear friend 
of my youth and life, come and let us make it up. 
Here, take a pinch of snuff. It was no fault of 
mine you were rejected." 

74 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

" No, 'tis too soon. After your wedding," said 
the other, " this may de done, but I do not wish to 
come to the wedding feast. May the spirits of my 
ancestors pity me and save me from harming you 
or her. Depart in peace ! " 

Three months after the wedding the two friends 
met under a cabbage tree, took snuff together, and 
vowed to forget their grievance. 


Hunts are conducted on a large scale, and there 
are certain rules which have to be kept. Generally 
the most important man in the neighbourhood 
proclaims it, and young boys are sent round 
a day or two in advance with a few branches 
of the wild cabbage tree (umsenge) in their hands 
to invite those who are chosen to take part in the 
sport. All who see these boys with umsenge 
branches ask from them where the hunt is to take 
place, and are told in answer. It is an easy way of 
inviting superiors to anything, for a Zulu youth 
may not address his senior without being first 
spoken to. 

All the men invited have to meet the chief at the 
starting point, armed, and with their dogs. They 
dance round him and sing their hunting songs, then 
they follow him to the place chosen for the hunt. 
While at the hunt, if a buck is stabbed by more 
than one person before it falls, it belongs to the man 
who first drew blood, and the man who gave it the 
next stab, or whose dog caught it after it had 
received its first wound is entitled to a leg ; the 
man who wounded it a third time, or whose dog 

76 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

pulled it down, takes a shoulder, if it is a large 
buck, but nothing if the animal is a small one. 

If caught by dogs without being previously 
wounded, and if it is not known whose dog was the 
first to lay hold of it, the buck belongs to the 
master of the hunt or the man who called the hunt 
together. And it is the latter generally who 
settles a disputed question of ownership ; but he 
cannot mend the broken heads which so often 
follow such a dispute. One seldom sees natives 
so excited as they over a buck killed at a hunt, 
when there is any doubt as to the person to 
whom the buck belongs. Many cases of assault, 
and even murder, arise out of quarrels over a dead 
buck. It might therefore be very useful to know 
these rules. 



In the early days when the Boers invaded 
Zululand the Zulus twice set traps for them, which 
were very successful. They were completely 
caught in both. 

Dingane, who was at that time King of the 
Zulus, prepared the first one himself. He gave a 
great beer drink in his cattle kraal, and invited all 
the Boers, with their leader (Piet Retief). These 
readily accepted the invitation, came, and were 
highly entertained in various ways. A good many 
Zulus were asked by Dingane to come and help to 
entertain by singing and dancing while the tyuala 
(Kafir beer) was being passed round. The Boers 
enjoyed the Kafir beer immensely, as well as the 
singing and dancing, little guessing what was in 
store for them that day. 

When Dingane thought he had spent enough 
time with them, he gave a sign to his people, which 
had been agreed upon beforehand. He just passed 
the palm of his hand over his mouth, and that 
meant, " Sweep them all off the face of the earth." 
After having given this sign, he himself went out 

78 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

of the kraal unnoticed. Hundreds of Zulus who 
had been waiting outside the kraal ready armed set 
to at once, and those who had been singing and 
dancing joined in as soon as the sign was given them. 
There was a confusion of beer pots and assagais. 
The assagais came like a hailstorm upon the un- 
fortunate Boers. Their leader was the only one 
who escaped by leaping over the cattle kraal fence 
and disappearing in a most mysterious way. 

A few years after he came forward again with 
another big commando, in hopes of settling old 
scores, when he was led into another trap beyond 
the White Umfolozi, at a place called Opate. He 
had been troubling the Zulus a great deal all round 
about Mahlabatini (where the Natal Police distin- 
guished themselves in the recent Boer war). 
Dingane was quite at a loss what to do with them, 
for he wished to put an end to it all. Amongst his 
numerous chiefs he had one very smart general 
called Nobongoza, who thought of a plan to catch 
the Dutchmen. He had a private interview with 
the king, and made his plans known to him. They 
were thought to be very good indeed, for Dingane 
left the management of everything to him after 
that. Opate is a nice open plain, surrounded with 
bushes and hills. To get to it one had to go through 
a narrow pass. Nobongoza ordered a good number 
of his men to drive the king's cattle to this plain 
for safety ; but he really had quite another object 
in view in doing this. All the natives were to go 
armed, in readiness to defend the cattle in case the 

Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 79 

Boers should find their hiding place and try to take 
them. A day after the cattle had been taken to 
Opate, Nobongoza sent a big army to hide in the 
bush all round the place ; then he turned traitor 
and went over to the Boers, saying he was tired of 
fighting against them, therefore he was now willing 
to lead them to a place where the king had hidden 
his cattle, and they could just help themselves and 
go away. Piet Retief believed what Nobongoza 
said, and was quite pleased. He allowed this chief 
to go as their leader, and even promised to pay him 
for his trouble. So he led them through this narrow 
pass, and when they had got through a fine sight 
came in view — a sight that would make any Dutch- 
man's heart leap for joy — the plain was alive with 
fine cattle. They at once made a dash for them, 
when Nobongoza suddenly disappeared in the 
forest close by, where thousands of armed Zulus 
were waiting for their prey. They rushed out from 
the bush all round, closed in upon the Boers, and 
killed every one of them. The cattle were then 
driven back triumphantly to the King's kraal, 
and Nobongoza was looked upon as a hero ever 

These historical tales are repeated to this day. 
Anyone visiting Zululand might ask a Zulu to 
relate to them " Ubiqili Buka Bongoza," and it 
would be told them with great glee. It is one of 
the most favourite stories amongst the men. 

When visiting Zululand only a short time ago I 
heard this story from an old Zulu warrior who is 

80 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

now over a hundred years old. He seemed to have 
a very good memory still, and enjoyed relating all 
his past victories. He said he was quite a little 
boy when Chaka died, and he served as a soldier 
under Dingane. 


The Zulus are very fond of drawing mazes 
(usogexe) on the ground with the finger, or — after 
smoking hemp (insangu) — with saliva passed 
through a hollow stem of tambootie grass and so 
made to trace a labyrinth (tshuma sogexe) on a 
smooth floor. The one who draws generally asks 
some one else to find the way into the royal hut. 
And this he does with a pointer of tambootie, or 
failing to follow the right course and getting 
cornered, is greeted with a general shout of 
" Wapuka sogexe ! " (you are done for in the 
labyrinth), and has to go back to the start 
and begin the quest again. This game is a 
great favourite, and is often played for hours 
at a time : the sons of Mpande were great 
adepts at it. They would vary it sometimes 
by dotting rows of warriors on the outside, 
and then success depended on the positions 
that the combatants were made to assume, the 

82 Zulu Customs and Folk-lore 

great triumph being to bring an army into the 
shape of a bull's head and horns, when he 
whose horn first touched the adversary's line was 
acclaimed as winner. 

The above is a copy of a Labyrinth made by a Zulu, 
Blntyetye, for the well-known missionary, the Rev. R. 
Robertson, and first reproduced by Messrs. John Sanderson 
and Co., of Durban. It is noticeable for having two huts 
to be reached — that in the centre being the Royal one. 

Printed by 

The Church Printing Company 
Burleigh Street, Strand, W.C.